Leaving the Church Behind

This guy speaks volumes about why he left the church, and by extension, why church attendance everywhere is declining. The Church cures people with sterilized rituals and bleached messages. Jesus used mud and spit. Can we get a little authenticity here, please?

exhaleinexhile

Last week, a former congregation member emailed me to see how I was doing after closing down the church where I was the pastor for eight years. In the email, he asked me if I had found a new church to attend; and in my reply, I told him that I had not been to church since The Journey closed and probably would not be back to church for a long time. My response triggered concern and curiosity, so he asked if we could meet. We decided to meet at a local brewery to pray, drink some beer, and catch up. As we talked, I found myself struggling to articulate why I’m leaving the church behind.

It’s difficult to find satisfactory answers to provide people who believe that church attendance is an essential element to their faith, whether it’s from a place of desire or obedience. For the longest time…

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What Jesus Never Got To Say

cross

What Jesus Never Got To Say

We have four gospels in the Bible that record Jesus’ words, at least in part. I’d love to know what else he said in the last few years of his life. Obviously it was much more than what is recorded in the gospels.

One thing I’ve always wondered about is this: Why did Jesus say these words on the cross? “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” What kind of a loving father turns their back on the death of their son? I’ve heard it explained in several ways. I’d like to toss one more possible explanation into the mix.

First, let’s look at a text from Luke chapter 4, beginning in verse 16.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Here’s Jesus, in the temple of Nazareth, announcing to the people that the scripture from Isaiah was written about him, and he was the fulfillment of that scripture. Wow! Those are some bold words! Needless to say, the people assembled there did not appreciate what he said. They would have been fine if he had just stopped with the reading. But saying “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing” was over the line.

Fast forward to the crucifixion. Jesus says those famous words: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” What I’ve never heard any preacher say is this: Jesus was once again quoting scripture! The full text of Psalm 22:

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.

5To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

9Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.

14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

19But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. 26The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever!

27All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

There are SO MANY things in this chapter that directly correlate with the gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion! Verse 7: All who see me mock me. Verse 15: My mouth is dried up. Verse 16: They pierce my hands and my feet. Verse 18: They cast lots for my garment. And there are more parallels in the text as well.

So, two thousand years after the fact, let me say the words Jesus never got to say from the cross.

This day is this scripture fulfilled.

I Chose Loss

If God is Love, surely this woman is a saint.

Murphy's Law Translated

I chose loss. I volunteered for it. Signed up and waited for my turn. I chose loss; but I never thought it would feel like this.

Four days ago I lost my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who had only ever known life in a NICU incubator. Four days ago I held her in my arms as she lay dying, trying to choke back the sobs as I whispered my love to her. It was the first time she had been cuddled to my side. Four days ago I lost the sweet child I’d been planning and preparing for during the past eight months. And I walked into an empty home filled with baby things I had hoped to fill with loving memories.

I kissed my baby goodbye and walked out of the small, dark room they use for these things, trying to hold it together long enough to get…

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The Rise of the Dones

Darwin said a species that cannot change is doomed to extinction. That rule applies equally well to churches.

Holy Soup

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously, and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation–often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among…

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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

Grace is not just some abstract idea or concept. It has real-life applications. See if you can spot grace in this teacher’s new ideas.

Granted, and...

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm

I’m pleased to bring this excellent blogger to the acquaintance of my readers. For those who have been hurt by abusive religion, this is a breath of fresh air. Ditch the God of Perfection and come see a Jesus who says “I will give you rest.”

Jesus Without Baggage

In my opinion, six mistaken beliefs among Christians cause incalculable pain, suffering, and lasting damage. I focus on these baggage issues on this blog, as summarized on my About page:

  1. The belief that the Father is an angry, capricious, vindictive God
  2. The concept of eternal punishment and torture in hell
  3. An insistence that the Bible is somehow inerrant in every word
  4. An over-emphasis on rules and doctrinal requirements
  5. Commitment to a literal approach to the creation stories in Genesis
  6. Disapproval and rejection of gay people

My good friend Christian Evolution created a graphic, based on my list, that captures these major issues very well. I feel so honored that he would do that.

Six religious baggage issues

Some Beliefs among Believers are more Harmful than Others

I know that followers of Jesus disagree on a host of issues, but I don’t think all issues are equally important. I talk about these six beliefs…

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Don’t Stop. Keep Walking! (the full version)

barbedwire

A few excerpts from the Bible:

Genesis 6:9 Noah walked with God.
Genesis 5:22 Enoch walked with God.
Genesis 17:1 the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me.”
Micah 6:8 And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
Malachi 2:6 He [Levi] walked with Me in peace and uprightness.

One thing is clear: God sure does a lot of walking.

In the modern church, we look to the Scriptures to find God. We see how the early Christians lived, and what they believed, and we know that God was with them. Then we reason that we should do exactly the same thing. If God changes not, then he will be with us just like he was with the early church, if we only do the same things. But we overlook one thing: God is walking.

The light rises in the east and sets in the west. It never stays still. But if we walk with the light (if we could walk that fast) then we could stay in the light forever. If we instead mark out our spot and say “This spot is full of light. I will stay here forever” then we quickly find ourselves in darkness.

This is where the Church is today. We have marked out our spot of Light, which we call the Bible, and we cling to it like an anchor. We are completely ignoring the fact that when we stop, God is still walking.

In all of Biblical history, there was never a period greater than 400 years without a prophet on the earth. Doesn’t it seem odd that it’s been 2000 years without a prophet? I thought God didn’t change? Or could it be that we don’t recognize his prophets?

We have believed a lie. We have been taught that nothing may be added to or taken away from the Bible. This belief is rooted in the final words of the book of Revelations, chapter 22.

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

To which book was John the Revelator referring? Consider that the Bible was not compiled until a few hundred years after John’s death. Therefore it could not have been about adding to the Bible. He was instead talking about not adding to or taking away from his prophecies in the book of Revelations. It was not a proscription against any writings from God’s future prophets.

So if we seek to walk with God, and hearken unto his voice, wouldn’t it be wise to listen to his prophets? We know some of them. Martin Luther. John Wesley. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King, Jr. Brennan Manning. There are many others. Still more have been lost to history, having been born before the invention of the printing press.

God is all around us, but he stops for no one. If we want to be with him, we must walk with him. We cannot drive our stake in the ground and declare that this is what we believe and we will never change. This is why the Church is in trouble today. We have stopped, and God has moved on, and the unbelievers can clearly see that God is not with us.

Let’s get walking!